Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Its been 49 days since Ive been home to my site in Ha Mohatlane. I spent 3 days celebrating Christmas in Bloemfontein,10 days at a Peace Corps phase 3 training with the group who I came with in june, 1 week over New Years in Cape Town, 2 days at a Peace Corps all volunteer conference and the rest staying somewhere in Maseru, killing a little bit of time, discovering the joys (and evils) of facebook and realizing that I struggle more in life in general if Im not being productive.

Capetown was wonderful. Barbara and Oscar from my group, traveled with me and we stayed at a backpackers hostel. We climbed table mountain.. one of the 7 natural wonders of S. Africa (and walked very funny for several days after). We saw the district 6 museum (which is the area in S. Africa which was cleared of blacks and coloreds, buldozed and then rebuilt for whites) and took a boat out to Robben Island which was where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years of his 27 years in Prison. We also got to spend some time at the beach, which was beautiful. Especially since we've all been living in a land locked, drought ridden country for the last 7 months. Now you'd think one of us (we're actually from 3 generations) would have been smart enough to bring sun tan lotion... the very bad burns we got on our legs and feet contributed to our funny walk. Barbara, who is the oldest, commented.. "cool, now I can keep up with you all." South Africa is beautiful, but seeing the blatant racism is disturbing... the separation of blacks and whites... I thought apartheid was over. I was in Bloemfontein over Christmas. We had been chatting with some youth while waiting in a taxi. (many of the south african blacks in bloem speak sesotho as it's close to the Lesotho border) We all got in a taxi driven by an Afrikaaner. He said to us "when you talk to them they look at you like you are monkeys." After a short silence, someone said "maybe that's because they are not used to white people greeting them." In Capetown, we asked an elderly, very pleasant Afrikaaner for a beach recommendation. He gave one saying "and there arent too many blacks there. Well there are some, but the beach wont be overrun with them." I guess I shouldn't be surprised. After all, in America it took 100 years before we stopped following the Jim Crow laws... officially. And over 200 years when we could see past color and elect a black president. Its only been 14 years for S.Africa. Lately I have been pondering the question of: can we change? With whatever it may be. Nelson Mandela said: "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite." I believe this with every fiber of my being. For South Africa, for Lesotho, for America, for me...

Besides travelling, the other reason Ive been away from my site for so long is that there have been some safety issues at Ha Mohatlane... none of which have to do with my host organization. Peace Corps wants to ensure my safety and are taking very good care of me, so, if all goes well, Peace Corps is moving me to a village about 4 km (2 1/2) miles away by the name of Ha Nkalimeng.My new house will be on a family compound. It will have a thatched roof (yea, cooler in the summer.. and its really hot right now... and warmer in the winter)and from what I understand a nice family living there. Peace Corps is in the process of putting burglar bars on and making sure all is good... Hopefully I will be moving Monday. Ke batla ho ea hae!!! (I want to go home!!!)This has been (in so many ways) a very frustrating last 7 weeks... but Im very glad to be serving in the Peace Corps in Lesotho. Ive had a lot of time recently to reflect... is there any purpose for myself to be here... is there any purpose for Peace Corps being here? At one of the recent trainings, someone said that Lesotho will be dead as a country within 3-4 generations. I said to my neighbor that I thought that was rather a bold statement to make. My neighbor said that this has been confirmed by our own government. I'm not sure if it's true, but I do know that Lesotho's population has dropped 2.1 million to 1.7 in a short period of time. I know that the life expectancy which used to be in the early 60's is now 37. I know that the months Ive lived in Ha Mohatlane, there are funerals every single weekend. People I have personally known have died... children... people who weren't receiving ARV's because of the extreme stigma here. I know that multiple, concurrent partners are the cultural norm for many in the rural areas... and most of Lesotho is rural. I know that where people have more access to media in Maseru, more education, the infection rate is 45%. I know that the infection rate in the 20 -45 age range is said to be 50%. When you actually live here (even for the short time of 7 months) you wonder if things can change... is there a point.. will this country survive? I have felt many moments of dispair over the last several months... can Lesotho change? My wise Peace Corps boss told me that it's all "one relationship at a time." That we can only have an impact on a small circle around us. So, I will forget about saving the world for now, and concentrate on loving those around me, whatever the circumstances are now, whatever the future will hold.

I want to mention the African Library project right now. I will still be working in Ha Mohatlane and we (the community) has plans to open the library very soon. Heres a little bit from their web page about what the African library project does and why:

"The mission of the African Library Project is to increase literacy in Africa by creating and improving small libraries.
Africa has the highest percentage of illiteracy in the world.
Books are the key to increasing literacy, and literacy is the #1 tool out of poverty.
Most African children grow up without books, while so many of us load our landfills with used books.
Many African teachers teach reading, writing, math and English without even a single book to use as a resource.
The UN has decreed 2003-2012 the United Nations Literacy Decade to underscore the importance of literacy and basic education as major tools in building a cohesive and peaceful society for the 21st century."
So many of the kids here dont have access to books. Its so important.. in many ways its their future. And to get into high school and university here they must speak English. Books for them, are the gateway to the rest of the world. So, Ha Mohatlane is going to have a community library. We have partnered up with Afican Library project and are working with all of you in the U.S to gather appropriate books and ship them out to Lesotho.In California, Denise Marshall is coordinating the book drive, so please get in touch with her if you want to help. (Denise rocks!!) Ive been thinking a lot of Nelson Mandela lately (and Im recommending his autobiography again.. "A Long Walk to Freedom" its incredible) and here's what he says about education:
"Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another."
There a lot lacking with education here. Books make a huge difference. Thanks for your support. Theres a good 3 minute video on Youtube.. just go on and search for "african library project." Its worth watching.

I know, a long blog. And I probably should have titled it the :tribute to Nelson Mandela blog. Ill finish with saying that while I dont care for Maseru and being away from my site so long, I did get to spend some time this week with a 75 pound, 6 month old St Bernard puppy named Daisy. Im in love!!!!
Salang hantle! (stay well)

Heres some pics... I dont have my computer with me, so they are uncorrected (not photo shopped) very hard for me:)

For some reason, blogger is not letting me move pics around this time... so let me try to explain here... from the top, left to right. The first picture is Daisy... possibly the coolest dog in the world. You can see, Im sure, why Im in love. Next is the entire CHED group in Lesotho (Community Health Education and developement) The other 40 education group people are not pictured. next is 2000 african penguins on Robben island. Then, Nelson Mandela's cell of 17 years... hard to see but note the blankets that he slept on, on the far right... gotta be hard on the back. Little boy on the beach at Cape Town. The next 4 are table mountain... the first is on the top..the guy on the right is getting ready to abseil (repel) down the mountain.. looks like fun. the next is my friend Oscar, and the other 2 are the hike up. The last picture is the view in Cape Town from the patio at the backpackers hostel we stayed at. Im moving next wednesday, so Ill finally be able to show you pics of life in the villages